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SpaceX grabbing 90% of the launch contracts to the Moon

Capitalism in space: The announcement yesterday by Firefly that it has awarded SpaceX the launch contract for its Blue Ghost lunar lander mission (scheduled for launch in ’23) is significant because it continues a remarkable pattern of dominance by SpaceX of the lunar launch market.

Right now, of the seven scheduled robot missions to the Moon, SpaceX will launch all but one. The full list, in no particular order:

In addition, SpaceX launched Israel’s Beresheet lander in 2019 on a Falcon 9.

Furthermore, SpaceX has won the contract from NASA for the agency’s first manned lunar lander, using Starship. It has also won the contract to launch the initial components of NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station on a Falcon Heavy.

There are other lunar missions in the works (by Russia, China, and others), but these are all the launches awarded as commercial contracts to private rocket companies in recent years. Thus, of these ten lunar missions, SpaceX has launched or is launching nine. That’s a 90% market share!

SpaceX’s dominance in winning these contracts is obvious. Its rockets are far cheaper than its competitors. The company has also demonstrated that their rockets are reliable, proving this by its ability to routinely reuse the first stage.

While this string of contract awards is great for SpaceX, and its low prices great for the companies launching landers and rovers to the Moon, that SpaceX’s competitors are not competing very successfully is not good news.

For example, ULA proposed and is building its Vulcan rocket to compete with SpaceX, but because it will initially not be reusable it will not do so. And even when reusability is later added to the rocket, the design — limited to only recovering the first stage engines — will not lower its cost significantly. It will always cost too much to launch.

Arianespace has the same problem with its new Ariane 6 rocket. It is not reusable and has thus failed to win many contracts because its high price is not competitive.

And though Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket will be reusable like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and thus competitive in price, it is two years behind schedule. The delay is partly because of issues with developing the rocket’s BE-4 first stage engine, but it is also because Blue Origin decided in to chase military contracts and was forced to rework the rocket to meet the military’s bureaucratic demands. It was therefore not available to bid on any of these lunar launch contracts and lost that business.

The U.S. needs many robust rocket companies to fuel innovation and low prices. Leaving the job to one company is a bad idea, because it provides no options and leaves everyone vulnerable.

It is time for others to step up and start competing. And that doesn’t mean protesting government contract awards to SpaceX. It means building rockets that are as good and even better than SpaceX’s. Only then will we be poised to colonize the solar system effectively and quickly.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Max

    This is fantastic, if you produce a product that people want… They’ll beat a path to your door.

    Does the starship ballast filled proof of concept to the moon and back for NASA Count?

  • Edward

    Despite the reductions in launch costs that SpaceX has achieved with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy and the dramatic two orders of magnitude reduction it should be able to achieve with Starship, SpaceX’s designs are less than optimal. There is still room for improvement. I think that the mindset of rocket engineers has been to get the most weight to orbit with each rocket, the most technical capability, but SpaceX is showing that the demand for low prices, which customers have been requesting for at least three decades, is what should be motivating launch companies.

    So far, most launch companies and countries have shown a reluctance to work hard on this solution, most of them making only token attempts. Blue Origin has worked on the reusable booster from its founding.

    Skylon, from Reaction Engines Limited in Britain, is an idea for a completely reusable single stage to orbit rocket with the added benefit of an engine that breathes air for its oxidizer at low altitude. This could be nicely competitive. However, the development of this engine is taking quite some time, and I am not seeing a lot of progress on it.

    SpaceX’s other advantage over the other launch companies or countries is its rapid development program. Falcon 9 successfully re-landed a booster within five years after announcing its intention to do so, and if they put a Starship in orbit (3/4 orbit) this year, it will be about five years after announcing this new spacecraft. ULA’s Vulcan could be another rocket that launches five years after its announcement, so it looks like development schedules may be decreasing, as I hope they do, but Starliner is a completely new concept and is much, much larger and more capable than Vulcan, so a five-year development schedule is similar to the Saturn V’s. Both the Saturn and Starship change rocketry in fundamental ways. One was a national effort, the other a corporate effort. It shows that rocketry is getting closer and closer to the abilities of We the People, that competition should be able to increase as time passes.

    We have many new startups in the small launcher category. Perhaps several of them will grow into larger launchers and compete successfully with SpaceX and Blue Origin.

    What we need now are companies that are willing, now, to commit to improving on Starliner, and to begin their developments, now, in order to keep SpaceX and all the other companies on their toes and competing with each other. It is sad to think that only Blue Origin and Reaction Engines seem willing to take up the challenge of this competition. Once SpaceX starts colonizing Mars, it may lose its focus on launchers, giving the competition plenty of opportunity to catch up and surpass it.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Good post Edward.

    I don’t think Skylon is a real competitor to SpaceX. It’s just too dang hard, and once you get over the idea of optimizing for performance vs just making the rocket bigger, TSTO VTVL wins every time. Combining rockets and airplanes is just too complicated, both technologically and in terms of government regulation. SpaceX has gobsmacked a very complacent industry. It will take at least a decade to catch up, if it happens at all.

  • SpaceX’s designs are less than optimal. There is still room for improvement. I think that the mindset of rocket engineers has been to get the most weight to orbit with each rocket, the most technical capability, but SpaceX is showing that the demand for low prices, which customers have been requesting for at least three decades, is what should be motivating launch companies.

    Excellent observation … an example of the saying “the best is the enemy of the good”.

    In the market for space-launch services, SpaceX is VHS … while NASA/Big Space is Betamax.

  • mkent

    Vulcan and Ariane 6 will never be re-usable. There’s no point. They don’t fly enough. Making them re-usable would make them more expensive, not less.

    And that doesn’t mean protesting government contract awards to SpaceX.

    So when SpaceX protests a government contract that someone else wins, that’s good, but when someone else protests a contract that SpaceX wins, that’s bad?

  • Patrick Underwood

    mkent, you have a point. We all love when the refs throw a flag on the opposing team, and hate when one is thrown on ours. But them’s the rules.

    On the other hand, it’s easy to sympathize with Ralph when he finally gets Scut Farcus on the ground and makes him cry like a little girl. :)

  • Patrick: If anyone thinks SpaceX’s primary tactic for getting government contracts is protesting contract awards, they are not paying attention. SpaceX has protested for sure, but they had a correct legal point, and the circumstances were fundamentally different. When they protested to the Air Force, they weren’t protesting an award given to someone else that they had bid on and lost. They were protesting the Air Force’s refusal to allow them to even bid. The monopoly the Air Force had set up with ULA was patently corrupt and illegal, and needed to be challenged and ended.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Wow, you sure can pull a lot of mistaken conclusions from a short post. I completely agree with you! That’s what the whole Ralph vs. Scut Farcus thing was about: the good guy’s righteous and justified thrashing of the bully who had previously thrashed *without* justification.

  • Patrick Underwood: Just so there is no misunderstanding, I was not referring to you in my comment. I realized you agreed with me.

  • Edward

    mkent wrote: “So when SpaceX protests a government contract that someone else wins, that’s good, but when someone else protests a contract that SpaceX wins, that’s bad?

    I had a different take-away from Robert’s statement. It isn’t that protesting is bad but that competing with better or lower cost products is better.

    Boeing’s complaint seems to be that had they known that the selection process had changed then they would have had the opportunity to bid differently. Strategies change with changing conditions. It is no guarantee that they could have won the contract, but they clearly think they would have chosen a different bidding strategy.

    Because SpaceX already plans to make a Mars lander that is very similar to its proposed lunar lander, the design difference is small, and they can successfully charge a much lower price than the other two companies, which have to design their systems largely from scratch. The main problem that I see with the Starship option is that its mass overwhelms Gateway’s mass, and may make that combination more difficult for NASA to control (e.g. more costly in reaction control propellant). Factors such as this need to be considered when evaluating bids. SpaceX’s price may make it look like a shoo-in, but it comes with a few downsides, too.

    Another problem that I see is that Starship’s mass means more rocks kicked up (and likely thrown farther) during landing and takeoff, which would have to be considered when protecting any future lunar base(s) and hardware from Starship landings and launches.

  • Jeff Wright

    It has retrothrusters higher up for landings upon the Moon…like the Hercules concept

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